Updated: 01/03/2022- Crate training our puppy was one of the best decisions we made when we brought her home.
Because crate training a puppy satisfies their natural instinct to find a safe, quiet place to sleep and hide from danger.
In the wild, dogs will look for a small cave to stay safe while they rest, but since you probably don’t have a small cave in your house a crate is the next best thing.
Our puppy liked to hide under the couch. But since we could not see what she was doing it was not a safe place for her to be when she was still young.
Even as an adult she still prefers a place away from everyone to take her daily naps.
Though, the best reason to crate train your puppy is that it keeps them safe when you can’t watch them.
If this is your first puppy, you will be amazed how much trouble they can get into.
Advantages of Crate Training a Puppy
Crate training a puppy has many advantages. As I mentioned above it provides a quiet place for your pup to retreat to when they are scared, tired or over stimulated.
It keeps your puppy safe and out of trouble when you can’t keep an eye on them.
Another advantage to crate training is that your pup learns that they are safe when they need to be confined to a crate. This is a very important life lesson for your puppy.
Even if you don’t like the idea of crate training, there may come a time that they have to be in a crate.
Reasons a dog might need to be crated:
- If they need to spend time at the veterinarian they will be placed in a crate
- If you need to travel long distance by plane or train they will need to be crated. Keeping them in a crate on a car ride is also safer than allowed them to sit in a car seat unrestrained.
- If your dog needs to be groomed the groomer may use a crate to keep them safe after they are done or between a bath and the haircut.
Check out this video from the Humane Society of the United States video on why you should crate train your puppy.
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How to Pick a Crate
The first step in crate training a puppy is deciding which crate best fits your needs.
As you are deciding which crate to purchase, think about the size your pup will be when they are full grown.
The general guideline is that the crate should be at least 4 inches higher and longer then what your pup is expected to become.
I would argue that it should be much larger than what you think your puppy will grow to. You want them to be able to move around in the crate once they are fully house trained. This will make spending time in the crate more comfortable for them.
How to measure
If your pup is full grown measure their length from their nose to their tail and add 4 inches to get the minimum length of the crate you need. Next, measure from the floor to the top of their head while they are sitting and add four inches to determine the minimum height needed.
Again, I would choose a larger crate with a divider so that they have room to move around when they are older.
Look for a crate like the Midwest Homes for Pets Crate which includes a divider panel. This allows you to adjust the size of the crate as needed.
When your puppy is small, you can reduce the size so that they do not have room to go to the bathroom while in the crate.
As they grow you can keep expanding the size of the crate until they are fully grown. While crates with dividers cost more, you will save money in the long run by not having to buy larger crate when they are grown.
- It is better to get a crate that is too big then one that is too small. Our crate is much larger than our small pup but it gave her space to move around and stretch
Cloth vs Metal Crates
Cloth crates are nice but metal crates are easier to clean and sanitize when you are potty training your pup. Plastic crates can be cleaned like a metal crate but they offer less ventilation.
We use a metal crate which has lasted through two dogs now. You can see a picture of it below.
To learn more about what you need for your new puppy check out our post What You Need for Your New Pup
Crate Training a Puppy Made Easy
1. An Inviting Place to Stay
You want to make the crate an inviting place to be. Do this by placing the crate in an area that is central to your home but a little out of the way.
A corner of the room where your family spends most of their time works well. This is our crate which is located in our living-room next to two walls.
Try to stay away from heating or cooling vents.
Then line the crate with blankets and add a few safe toys. You can cover the crate with a lightweight blanket or sheet to give it a “den” feeling. Just make sure it is well ventilated and does not get too hot.
If you prefer a cleaner look, you can use a crate cover that is made to fit nicely over the crate. The Midwest Homes for Pet Crate Cover is made to fit their crates and comes in a few patterns and colors. You can also find an assortment of crate covers at Amazon and Etsy.com.
Here is an adorable crate cover that looks like a dog house.
To help make the crate a more inviting and comfortable place, consider adding a crate pad to their crate.
Big Barker Crate Pad
If you have a large breed puppy Big Barker makes an Orthopedic Dog Crate Pad. This crate pad is made in the USA with 4″ Certi-PUR US® certified foam and comes with a removable, washable, waterproof and tear resistant cover. You can find the Big Barker crate pad at Amazon.com.
We try to only buy beds made in the USA to reduce the toxic fumes that can come from foreign forms.
Even if you don’t have a large breed, this pad will make any puppy feel comfortable.
Another option is the MidWest Homes for Pets Deluxe Super Plush Pet Bed. This bed is not made in the USA, but is highly rated, made to fit the Midwest crates and more affordable then the Big Barker beds.
The deluxe bed is completely machine washable and a good option if you have a Midwest Crate. You can use a smaller sized bed in the crate while you have the divider up.
Once they are grown, you can get a full-sized bed for your pup. You can find the Midwest Deluxe Pet Beds at Amazon.com
Tip: If you are getting your pup from a breeder ask for a blanket or toy that has your pup’s mom’s scent on it. Place it in the crate with the other blankets. The scent will only last a few days but it should help soothe your pup for the short term.
If at all possible you should have the crate setup before your puppy comes home for the first time. That way when your pup is exploring their new surroundings it will be just one of the many new things they will discover.
2. Getting Comfortable with the Crate
Allow your pup time to sniff around the crate, making sure the door is secured in the open position. If your pup walks away from the crate it’s ok. Don’t force them to enter the crate.
After your pup has had some time adjusting to their new environment lure them back to the crate using a treat or toy.
Make a game out of the process. Toss the toy in different directions for the pup to chase. Always have another toy to lure them back to you. After a bit of throwing and chasing, throw the toy just inside the crate.
Since it is a small enclosed space they will probably be leery of going inside but may be willing to poke their head in to get the toy out.
After playing this game for a few minutes stop and do something else with your pup. Later in the day play the game again but this time using treats to lure your pup into the crate.
Continue playing this game throughout the day so that your pup gets used to going in and out of the crate, each time throwing the treat a little further into the crate.
TIP: You should only leave toys in the crate when you can keep an eye on your pup. No toy is completely indestructible or completely safe. Our little Bella has gutted every soft chew toy we have given her. Even the ones labeled “indestructible”
3. Practice Staying in the Crate
Once your pup becomes comfortable with going in and out of the crate, toss their favorite toy or treat into the back of the crate and close the door.
Give your puppy a few minutes to try to get to it from the outside. Then open the door so your pup can go in to get it.
This time though close the gate behind your pup. Leave it closed just long enough for him to realize the door is closed, then open it again. Play this game on and off throughout the day.
Another way to help make your pup comfortable with being in their crate is to gently place them in there for naps and quiet-time breaks.
Start in increments of 10 minutes and work up to longer periods. Do not take your pup out if they are crying. Wait until the crying stops.
You may only have a moment to react before they start to cry again.
4. Bathroom Breaks
Remember to take your puppy outside immediately after you take him out of the crate so he can go to the bathroom.
In the beginning you may want to pick your pup up to take him outside so he does not try to go inside. He will soon associate leaving the crate with bathroom time.
It’s also helpful to have a designated dog potty area. This will help your pup learn that when they are in the potty area they need to well you know… potty. For tips on creating a potty area visit our post; Dog Potty Area Tips and Ideas.
5. Crate Training a Puppy at Night
Hopefully your pup has become comfortable with the crate before it is bedtime but one day may not be enough time for them to become totally comfortable with the idea.
Follow these steps to make bedtime in the crate easier for your pup and you:
- A few hours before bedtime feed your pup so they will have time to digest and eliminate before being crated.
- A couple of hours before bedtime play with your pup to get them tired. Don’t do it right before bedtime because that will rile them up.
- Right before bedtime, take your pup outside to go to the bathroom. Do not rush this. Make sure he has time to completely empty out.
- Bring the crate up to your room, preferably next to your bed.
- Say goodnight to your pup and place them in the cage. Don’t make a big fuss over saying goodnight.
- For the first few nights it would be best if you went to bed at the same time as your pup. Try to sleep close to your pup. That way your pup can see that you are near and not feel so alone. The closer you are to your pup the easier they will settle down. Once they have settled into living with you they can sleep further away. But remember dogs are social animals. They want to be close to you.
- Remain patient – Your puppy will cry. However, it should stop after a while.
A Word About a Crying Puppy
It’s going to happen for the first few nights. Even if they were to sleep outside of the crate, they will still need some time to adjust to being without their litter mates and mom.
If you just let them outside (and you gave them time to do their business) they should not need to go to the bathroom right away.
Give him some time to settle down without letting him out of the crate. If he has had enough exercise he should be tired and fall asleep after a short while.
However, if your pup sleeps for a while and then wakes up crying, you will need to take them outside.
Do not talk or engage with your pup while taking them out except to give the “go potty” command. If it is still night time bring him back into the house and place him back in his crate.
All dogs are different and will respond to crate training differently. The most important thing to remember is to show them love and compassion.
Some dogs may take longer to adjust to sleeping in a crate. If your pup is one of them, like ours was, check out our post on what to do if your puppy cries in their crate at night: Puppy Crying in the Crate at Night?
Crate Training a Puppy Do and Don’t
- You should never leave your puppy locked in a crate all day. It is not good for their mental or physical health. If you need to keep them in a safe place consider an exercise pen like the one shown below.
- Don’t leave your puppy in a crate for longer than two hours at a time. They will be unable to control their bladders and bowels for that long. The general guideline is 1 hour for each month old but not to go above three hours.
- Only crate your dog until you can trust them not to get into trouble. After that, it should be a place they go to voluntarily.
- Do not use your dog’s crate as a punishment. The crate should be their safe place to go when they need down time.
- Do send your pup to his “room” to calm down if they have become over stimulated and need quiet time to rest but only for short periods of time.
- Do not bang on the crate while your puppy is inside. This will only frighten them and make them scared of the crate.
- Try not to lose your patience. The learning process takes time.
For more on crate training do and don’t check out our post: How to Crate Train a Puppy: 10 Mistakes to Avoid
Exercise pens can be a great alternative to using a crate, especially if they need to be in there for longer periods of time. You can also use an exercise pen in combination with a crate to give them a place to play and also a place to rest in one area.
But at least in the beginning watch your puppy to see if they try to escape the pen. Some dogs will be able to climb or jump over the pen. In this case you can get a cloth cover that goes over the top of the pen so they cannot escape.
Another useful item is a waterproof, washable whelping pad to protect your floors from accidents.
The Midwest Foldable Metal Exercise pen can be found at Amazon.com
If climbing on the pen is an issue, or you just want a cleaner look, you should check out the Lucidium Modern Dog Pen. This pen is made for smaller dogs under 40lbs and will not withstand an aggressive escape artist, but its clear Arcylic panels make it difficult to climb up on.
And let’s face it, it’s nicer looking than a black metal pen. Unfortunately, this was not around when our pup was a puppy. You can find it at Etsy.com